We've all had them. We think we have everything planned our math centers perfectly. We've spent ages prepping the resources we want to use – board games, card games, worksheets, technology. We have our lesson ready for our guided math group.
We've differentiated the activities. It's perfect …. but somewhere along the way, it all falls apart.
I'm talking about math center failures.
So how can we avoid it?
To have our math centers flowing smoothly with kids engaged and learning, we need to consider the following questions. It may take some time, but in the end, it will be worth it.
Have you set rules and expectations for center time?
Before starting centers you need to have a clear understanding of your own expectations.
What noise level will you be happy with?
Remember mathematical talk is what you're aiming for. But if the talk is loud and distracting you need to establish what noise level you expect.
How will you police this if you're working with a group? You don't want to interrupt them to tell the class to be quiet.
How will students rotate through the centers?
Numbered tables are great. Students just need to move to the next table number (or back to 1).
On one occasion I had a helper set up my centers for me. She put the table numbers all over the place so of course, the kids were confused. Try putting them in order so the kids move in a clockwise direction to the next center.
In the early days of using centers drawing chalk arrows on the carpet also helps.
Have you established who will go first when playing a game?
Grab the freebie below to help establish who goes first in a game.
What happens when kids are finished and it's not the time for the next rotation?
How long each activity takes is important to consider.
You might need to have another activity at the center if you know the first activity is a quick one.
Maybe your students already have a fast finishers folder with work they can take with them. If kids finish early it's easy for them to get out an activity and complete it. It might even be unfinished work from a previous center.
What concepts do you want to reinforce in your math centers?
Ideally, you'll have a center or two that focus on your current math concepts but you also what to review previous concepts. Kids can forget what they've previously covered. You don't want to get to testing period and find they can't remember.
Some centers you'll want to schedule each week such as a focus on number facts.
Will you use a variety of different resources like games, worksheets or technology?
A game should be fun but it shouldn't be just busy work.
Think about the concepts you want to reinforce. Is the game reinforcing those concepts or are your students just moving their game marker around a board to get to the finish?
Have you been able to find an app or computer game that focuses on the concepts you want?
Is that worksheet motivating, maybe interactive or is it just a page of equations to fill in?
Using worksheets with paper clips to make a spinner can make that worksheet just a little more interesting.
How will you schedule your math centers?
How long kids spend at each center will depend on the total time for that session?
Fifteen to twenty minutes is usually long enough. The number of centers you have will depend on the number of students at each center. Four to five centers is a good number.
Here's a schedule that works for most teachers:
Group 1. Working with the teacher – introducing or reinforcing a current concept, working with students who are having difficulties with the concept.
Group 2. Math Game – working on a current skill. Here you may need two games if you have more than four kids in the group. If you're unsure of how to introduce game rules, head to this post.
Group 3. Math Game – reviewing concepts.
Group 4. Technology – Ipads, computer. You can always find great number fact apps to use.
Group 5. Independent worksheet – work on a current skill or perhaps review a concept.
How will you know your students are actively engaged in learning?
You know that students are completing the activity when they are using worksheets but what about a game?
Recording sheets are great for this. Every time a child lands on a number sentence on the game board they must record it.
If you're trying to cut down on your paper usage use personal whiteboards, laminated paper or even card placed inside a page protector for kids to write on. Before moving to the next rotation, kids can hold up their whiteboards for you to quickly check setting out and answers to simple equations.
Use peers to check their classmate's answer. Many games require kids to give answers first and then move their marker. Kids are great at letting each other know if they're correct. Have the option of a calculator for equations requiring regrouping to check student's work.
If you're using paper recording sheets, have time at the end of the rotation for partners to mark the sheet (kids love being the teacher) then place it in a folder or stick it in a notepad for your own accountability.
If you can hear mathematical conversation taking place that's wonderful. But if the conversation is more about who's doing what at recess then you might want to think about setting expectations about what you want to be hearing during center time.
Where will you place each group in your classroom?
If you're working with students you want to be in a position where you can see the rest of the class.
Sitting at the front of the room or to the side is ideal. Teachers are great at quickly scanning the room to ensure that everyone is on task.
Kids love technology so you don't want them too close to children who are working independently. It's easy to become distracted.
What about kids playing a game. Will they be noisy?
Sometimes it's a matter of trial and error as you get to learn your kids and classroom spaces.
How will your kids rotate through the math centers?
With one class, I set the timer for 15 mins then there were 2 minutes of music which meant it was time to finish, pack up and have everything ready for the next group.
If you're going to use music, choose it well. The focus is on packing up and making the area ready for the next group not singing and dancing!
Easy Prep Math Centers
The final thing to consider is how much prep is required by you to organize a math center. Sometimes it's just too much. Particularly if there is a lot of cutting involved.
If you're looking for first or second grade centers that are aligned to the common core, with minimal prep, differentiated recording sheets, and kid-friendly rules, then you might want to check out these packs.
There are many questions to consider when implementing math center in your classroom. If you take the time to consider all the factors that lead to their success you will have well-run centers in no time.